Elderly suicide deaths in 2020 hit highest figure since 1991

Silhouette of depressed man sitting in the private room
PHOTO: Getty Images

SINGAPORE — There were 452 suicides reported in Singapore last year, the most since 2012 and a 13-per-cent jump from 400 cases in 2019.

Of concern is the number of suicides deaths among elderly aged 60 and above, said the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) in a media release on Thursday (8 July). There were 154 of such deaths in 2020, the highest recorded figure since 1991 and a 26-per-cent increase from 2019.

SOS chief executive Gasper Tan said that his organisation is "extremely worried" about how the elderly are coping with COVID-19, with the pandemic severely affecting the country's economy and the population's lifestyle and mental health.

"During the pandemic period, the elderly were more likely to face social isolation and financial worries," he said in the media release.

"Difficulty in constantly adapting to changes as well as prolonged feelings of loneliness may be devastating. Since the pandemic, many in-person activities and initiatives for the elderly have also moved digitally. Those with limited proficiency with technology may find themselves lost and helpless.

"Given the uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last, it is imperative that we continue to build on existing efforts and find new ways to support the mental health of the elderly."

Fewer hotline calls from elderly despite rise in cases

SOS observed a slight dip in the number of calls made by the elderly to its 24-hour Hotline, with 4,455 calls in financial year 2020, from 4,816 in financial year 2019. Among those who revealed their age, 17 per cent of the calls were made by those aged 60 and above in FY2020, compared to 20% in FY2019.

The organisation said that this means there were fewer calls received from the elderly, despite more suicide deaths from this age group last year.

Associate Professor Helen Ko of the Singapore University of Social Sciences suggests the public find as many ways as possible to connect with the elderly who are lonely and socially isolated.

"Very often, most elderly persons want to hear a human voice and they long to hear the familiar voice of a loved one," she said. "For those who are not digitally savvy, please be very patient as they may need more time to pick up digital skills."

The rising number of suicide deaths was observed across all age groups, as it rose to 8.88 per 100,000 Singapore residents in 2020, up by 0.88 as compared to 2019.

For youths aged 10 to 29 years old and middle-aged adults aged 30 to 59 years old, suicide deaths increased by 7 per cent from 2019.

SOS observed that the issues faced by its hotline callers, which contributed to their state of distress during the pandemic, include difficulty to cope with loneliness and inactivity due to isolation, psychological distress and impaired social and family relationships.

New 4-digit hotline number from 26 July

SOS also announced in the media release that it will launch its new four-digit 24-hour hotline number on 26 July.

The new number is 1767 (1-SOS), and will remain toll-free. The public will still be able to reach the same hotline at its old number 1800-2214444.

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